(Hartford, CT) - Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was joined by soldiers and National Guard officials in Hartford today to set forth bipartisan measures to significantly improve care for working dogs, who serve with our troops on the battlefield, once their service ends. He will introduce legislation providing for a national non-profit funding source and a streamlined adoption process to upgrade treatment of the military working dogs after retirement.
"Military working dogs routinely patrol ahead of the line - put in harm's way to protect our troops. They show extraordinary strength and loyalty every day in saving the lives and limbs of our war fighters on the battlefield," said Blumenthal. "These courageous comrades help detect and disarm roadside bombs and IEDs - some of the deadliest threats to our troops. They are critical partners to our combat teams. Retired military working dogs often continue to serve at home in offering companionship and care to war fighters. For their service abroad, these dogs deserve their loyalty and dedication to be returned when they are home."
Military working dogs (MWDs) are regarded as a highly effective means for detecting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that can be otherwise difficult, if not impossible, to find. Despite their importance, however, they are currently classified by the Department of Defense as "equipment," leaving the dogs' adopters or individual military units to bear the cost of transportation and care if they wish to transport retiring MWDs back to the United States from serving abroad.
Lisa Phillips, a native of East Hartford who also spoke at the event, joined the United States Army in 2001 and worked as a veterinary technician caring for the Army's working dogs. After adopting a retired military dog, Lisa wrote a college essay about what military working dogs do and the importance of reclassifying and caring for them. At the recommendation of her professor, Lisa contacted and worked with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC-3) and Senator Blumenthal to introduce a bill to reclassify and provide care for retired military working dogs.
"Coming from the medical side of taking care of these animals, I know the extensive cost that is required - and these are heroes," said Phillips. "These dogs are put on the front line. They are there to clear a building before our human soldiers and they get no treatment when they retire...They're not equipment. They're a living, breathing creature and we take utmost care while they're on active duty and should do that in retirement also."
"The Connecticut National Guard is proud of the fact we are the only state where a unit of the reserve component owns and operates a military working dog unit. Senator Blumenthal's efforts focus attention on our nation's responsibility to prioritize post service care for our dogs as members of highly valued and essential teams. This is just the right thing to do for both our soldier handlers and their hard working battle buddy" said Maj. Gen. Thaddeus J. Martin, Adjutant General and Commander of the Connecticut National Guard.
The legislation would assist MWDs by doing the following:
- Improved Adoption Process. To standardize practices regarding the transfer of retired MWDs, those without suitable adoption options at the time of their retirement would be transferred to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. These dogs could travel to the base by commercial air by using donated travel benefits also used to facilitate the travel of our service members.
- A Voluntary Veterinary Care Fund. To ensure that our country's brave MWDs are not forgotten after they retire, the bill establishes a "Retired Military Working Dogs Veterinary Care Fund," with private donations to be used to provide care to adopted and retired MWDs. This fund would allow both the Department of Defense and private veterinarians to care for the dogs over the course of their lifetimes.
- Recognition for Service. The legislation would empower the Department of Defense to honor courageous or meritorious dogs, or those killed in action, through appropriate recognition such as a letter of commendation.